Reinventing Thanksgiving, Part III: Jazz Things Up
Editor's note: This is Regina's third post in a series about reinventing traditional Thanksgiving foods. To read the first post, click here, and for her second, click here. Or click here for a recipe for "turkey parfait."
I am re-thinking the title of my three part series on Thanksgiving foods—maybe it should have read "Jazzing Up Thanksgiving." It appears some think I have been trying to tip the sacred cow by using the word "reinventing." If my ideas for "jazzing" up cranberries created such an uproar with readers ... wait until I share Bob Blumer's "turkey parfait" recipe. If cranberries with figs are jazz, his recipe may seem punk rock to you.
Many are familiar with culinary adventurer Bob Blumer, the host and co-creator of the award-winning television series Glutton for Punishment. When I asked for an idea from his new book, Glutton for Pleasure, he provided the perfect intro and recipe. His surreal Gourmet Institute of Culinary Research says "the average Thanksgiving feast requires two months of negotiating, three weeks of planning, no less than 14 shopping trips, 23 1/2 hours of prep time, 5 hours of cooking, and 12 hours of baking. At mealtime, the first serving is inhaled in a matter of minutes, and seconds are scarfed down in ... well ... seconds. Desserts dissolve into thin air. Then everyone falls into a trytophan-induced coma and it's all over for the cleanup."
Whether you keep it the same, jazz it up, or punk it out, it is about being with family and friends. No matter what my menu is, I find grateful diners happy for the effort.
Blumer's thinking behind his "artistic" approach to leftovers is inspired by his belief that once so much energy has been put into preparing a festive bird and the usual constellation of traditional side dishes, it's only fair that you should get more out of your leftovers than just a turkey sandwich. Of course, as I am sharing ideas from some new books that are out for the holidays, I am in no way saying these recipes are for everyone. Just remember there are often three generations at a holiday table. I believe they all need to be recognized. As I wrote in part one of this three-part series, Generation Y, born in the '80s, now includes top chefs who have had the entire world at their fingertips since birth, because they have never not known the Internet. They also have had Food Network for most of their lives, which has opened this generation up to more foods than any of us were exposed to growing up before the 1980's. The combination of the two has created much more open and experimental cooks and diners.
I know I have written in the past about my family Thanksgiving here at Twin Oaks. As of yesterday there are 132 attending. I know this number may seem exaggerated, but to sum it up when you are one of nine children and your mother was one of nine, it does not take long to get up into double digits and beyond at holidays. People often ask me how I cook for such a large family. It is easy: I use a calculator. It is just math, organization, and freezer space. Last year I did a three-part series on planning ahead for Thanksgiving. It is probably worth a review if you have a crowd coming this year.
Let's talk turkey. You can brine, smoke, fry, inject, stuff, and roast a turkey. There are many recipes on the Internet and in cookbooks, and I am sure you all have a family recipe in a kitchen drawer or stuck in your favorite cookbook. Last year I also shared my favorite recipe for turkey, made with anchovies. I have prepared turkey this way for nearly 30 years (that number is scary to me). I had mostly favorable reviews but I had one reader respond last year that his turkey was undercooked. I reviewed the recipe again and re-tested it and it worked for me. I am thinking his turkey may have still been partially frozen or his oven may not be calibrated correctly. If I was in any way responsible for ruining anyone's holiday, I sincerely apologize.
If you are multi-tasking and feeding a crowd, it is smart to get a free-standing thermometer for your oven, just to make certain you are in control of the temperature. I have been in this house for eight years, and I feel I do more in a day than the Marines. However, I have yet to pick up the phone and summon the gas company to come and calibrate my Vulcan oven, and its temperature is way off. I just use a hanging thermometer. Make sure your turkey is completely thawed, and always thaw it in a refrigerator for food safety. It can take three to four days to thaw a large turkey in the refrigerator. As far as leftover turkey, my favorite use is turkey-sausage gumbo, and a turkey sandwich on good bread with a cream cheese spread, cranberry chutney, and mixed greens is hard to top, but I am willing to try Bob Blumer's recipe for Turkey Parfait. I think it never hurts for us to break out of our food comfort zone. I know I have written it so many times: I never stop learning about food, no matter how long I have cooked.
Dressings were always divided by the Mason-Dixon Line—bread dressings in the North, cornbread dressings in the South. I love both, but prefer my bread dressing full of assorted mushrooms and sage with lots of butter. I even take the fat from my brisket and save it to top my bread dressing for the holidays. If fat was a sin, this would be a cardinal sin. I do several versions of cornbread dressings, and the family favorite is with Andouille and crawfish. I also stuff one with mustard greens. Those recipes are on this website. In Southern Living's new book, 1001 Ways to Cook Southern, they have an easy recipe for Sage Cornbread Dressing and they give you the option of adding sausage or oysters. On the Food & Wine website they have a recipe for Sticky Rice and Chinese Sausage Dressing, which is to me a Chinese version of our Cajun rice dressing, which is one of my favorite dishes of all times. If I had any more room on my menu I would add a rice dressing.
To wrap this up, holiday traditions are mostly "family-centric," but we have to realize they are becoming generation-centric. There is comfort in knowing that in the array of dishes we line our tables with for this one holiday, there is something for everyone and each generation. I plan the menu, so if I do not care for Jell-O molds; they get removed from the menu. I never eliminate turkey, dressing, yams, and cranberries, but I may jazz them up a bit. Whether you keep it the same, jazz it up, or punk it out, it is about being with family and friends. No matter what my menu is, I always find grateful diners just happy for the invitation and the effort I put into the meal. Most importantly, this is a day of thanks. I am thankful for health, happiness, and love of my family and friends, every year, even if my sister Michelle shows up with an orange Jell-O mold.